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Losing a Horse

Updated: May 9


Andrea and her beloved horse Achilles

My horse Achilles died in 2015. On November 24, to be exact, at 1.24am. I know the time because I’d been looking at my watch for 14 hours wondering when it would happen – when this horse, that was my world, would leave me.

When that moment came, I felt the weight of the night come crashing upon me as my throat tightened in anguish, possibly to prevent my heart from being ripped from my body. The pain was as raw and as brutal as anything I have ever known.

Even as I write, I can feel the warmth of my boy’s distended belly at my back, slowly cooling as I struggled with the kind of bombshell grief that accompanies sudden and unexpected loss. Even now, I want to cry for him.

I have no recollection of driving home that night, but I must have done because I somehow

found sleep and when I awoke, I was in my own bed. This is one of the great gifts my body has afforded me; it can always find sleep.

Perhaps out of habit, as soon as my eyes opened, I reached for my watch. The time read

1.24am. Stuck forever at the hour my horse died. I haven’t worn a watch since.

As many of us know, there is no quick fix for grief and in the weeks that followed Achilles’ death I struggled to make sense of what was left of my life without him. I wanted to speak about him, so everyone might know what a wonderful horse he had been, but I couldn’t talk without crying.

Even during a facial, where chit chat isn’t obligatory, the tears rolled down my cheeks in an

unstoppable stream of despair. I wasn’t crying as such; I simply couldn’t stop the tears.

Thankfully, the beautician was very sweet and she made no comment. She let the tears roll.

And this is how it was for a few weeks. Talk was exhausting. Tears were constant. And my body physically ached with loss. My mum was so concerned she suggested I go to the doctor, but I wasn’t depressed, I was just very, very sad.

Of course, I am not the only person to have loved and lost a pet. History is littered with grief

for, and tributes to, faithful companions. Alexander the Great was so devastated by the loss of his horse that he named a city after him, Bucephala – now thought to be modern Jhelum in the Punjab province of Pakistan.

For others, without access to the same resources as empire builders, beloved pets have been mourned and remembered in a variety of ways. Tattoos are common – Orlando Bloom and his labradoodle Mighty, Jennifer Aniston and her corgi-terrier Norman as well as Miley Cyrus and her dogs Floyd, Emu and Mary Jane and a blowfish named Pablow. Written tributes are also abundant with heartfelt postings made by Tom Hardy, Zac Effron and Pink on the death of their ‘best friends’.

I too mourned the passing of Achilles with a tattoo, inscribing on my left shoulder blade the

kind words sent to me by a friend: “When the sky turns grey, the sound of thunder is him and

his herd coming to comfort you.”

I also posted on social media and dedicated my fourth novel, ‘Untethered,’ to Achilles’ memory. Like Alexander the Great, I wanted this incredible creature who had given me so much in his too-short life to be immortalised and remembered, even if only for the length of a print run rather than centuries.

And the painful truth was, it had been too short a life. Achilles was only seven years old when he died. I foolishly thought we’d grow old together, but then he fell ill with colic.

Colic is an umbrella term that tends to be employed for all manner of gastric equine illnesses

and it can be – as you now know – a fatal condition for horses. Surgery is available, and quite often successful, but the facilities needed for it had yet to reach Cyprus, where I lived. So, Achilles fought for as long as his body could take it. He then died in my arms. At 1.24am.

In 1947, Winston Churchill lost his beloved pet poodle in a road accident while he was away at a conference. In letters that were auctioned in 2014, he wrote of his heart ache and how he couldn’t bear the prospect of losing yet another dog when his ‘replacement puppy’ fell ill.

Fearing the worst, he wrote to the kennel owner looking after the pup: “After the said loss of the first one, I feel that I would rather not have another dog just now. Please do not therefore look for another poodle for me.”

Thankfully, Rufus II, as he was known, pulled through and lived another 15 years.

Like Churchill, many grieving animal lovers find solace in ‘replacement pets.’ And, again, I am no different. Three weeks after Achilles died, I brought home a retired racehorse called Lucky Star.

In a way, Lucky saved me. The hole left by Achilles was simply too big to navigate on my own and Lucky arrived to fill at least part of that void. He gave my life purpose and focus, and slowly, my grief for Achilles became more manageable – as it had to be because there is an unspoken shelf life for crying tears over an animal.


Coping with the loss of a horse
Andrea with Lucky Star - the horse who saved her

While people tend to be sympathetic when a pet is lost, it is seen as something almost trivial

when compared to greater bereavements, which are almost always, without exception, human.

And it’s true, losing a horse is not the same as, say, losing a child. But that’s not to say, such

grief needs to be diminished or made light of.

In 2021, researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada conducted a study of women aged 55 and older who had experienced “disenfranchised grief” after losing a pet.

According to one of the paper’s authors, Cary Brown, the women were careful about who they shared their feelings with, fearing a dismissive response.

She said: “Many of the women chose to stay home and grieve alone, only telling a few close

friends or family about the death. One of the women was told, ‘Oh come on, it’s just an animal.’ People would never say that to someone who had lost a spouse. So instead of normalizing the grief and being able to talk about it, they shut down and feel worse and worse.

“When you’re grieving, the last thing you want to have to decide is who you tell. You’re already upset and you don’t want to have to pick and choose. It’s a sad reflection on society that people would feel inhibited to talk about their loss.”

While I have never come face-to-face with the same insensitive response to my horse’s death, I was fully aware that at some point I would need to keep my tears and memories to myself because, to put it bluntly, people get bored of misery. But after a while, that was OK.

While Achilles’ death was a hugely tragic event in my life, it also brought me a strange sense of contentment, in the end.

When I say that time stopped still for me when Achilles died, I mean it. From that moment on, I stopped clock watching, I lived more in the moment and I resisted stressing about things I couldn’t change or that didn’t actually matter, not in the great scheme of things.

The house I own is just a house, the car I drive is just a car, the bills – with any luck – will be paid eventually, and the life I live is the way I want to live it. I am surrounded by animals, which means I am surrounded by love, and I cherish each and every moment I have with them because I am fully aware that sometimes life is short – and for the animals in our lives, it’s always going to be shorter than we will ever want.

Coping with the loss of a horse
Andrea with Achilles

2 Comments


That was a lovely read Andrea it’s given me some comfort thank you for sharing this with me 💔❤️‍🩹 xxx

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Glad it helped. And remember, if you need it, reach out to the professionals. We all have our own way of coping. xx


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